Anti-Israel Graffiti Found on College Campus Not a Hate Crime, AG Says

Earlier this month, after anti-Israel graffiti was found on a Maine college campus, an upset, anonymous party contacted college administrators, calling the incident a hate crime. But the state attorney general's office, after completing its review, decided late last week that the incident didn't qualify as a hate crime.

The graffiti was found on May 9 at Bates College, a liberal arts college in Lewiston, Maine. The graffiti, which was reportedly done with chalk, consisted of phrases such as "Stop ethnic cleansing," "Free Palestine" and "Israel is killing innocent people," according to pictures in a student organization's Instagram post.

Other graffiti not featured in the post but reported by campus officials included profanity aimed at Israel and Zionism, such as "F**k Zionist Israel" and "STFU Israel."

The Bates Leftist Coalition, a student-run "anti-capitalist" group, posted photos of the graffiti to its Instagram account on May 9. The group said it had "no knowledge of the circumstances by which this act occurred."

Upon receiving a complaint on May 9 that a "hate crime" had occurred on campus, the school followed state protocol as spelled out by the Maine Human Rights Commission, which included contacting local law enforcement.

In an email to students obtained by Newsweek, Gwen Lexow, director of Title IX and Civil Rights Compliance at Bates, wrote: "On Sunday morning, the college received a call from someone who reported that an anti-Semitic hate crime had occurred on our campus, referring to the chalking of Commons. The report of a hate crime initiated a set of steps, required under Maine human rights law."

Lexow continued, "After verifying that the reported chalking had occurred, we were required to inform the Lewiston Police Department, who then informed the Office of the Maine Attorney General, which is charged with initial fact-gathering and review."

Although the school was following state protocol, many students were apparently outraged to find that police were involved.

The Bates Leftist Coalition, in conjunction with 14 other student groups, issued a statement on social media denouncing local law enforcement's involvement. In the statement, the groups expressed "solidarity with the Palestinians and their cause as well as [their] deep disappointment with Bates College for the way they have handled the events of the past week."

The statement was co-signed by such groups as Jewish Students for Peace in Palestine and the Bates Black Student Union.

This past Friday, the attorney general's office determined that the incident did not constitute a hate crime. Over email, Lexow told the campus: "Earlier today, the college learned that the Attorney General's office has completed its review and determined that the case does not require further investigation and will be closed."

Lexow said in the Friday email that police involvement was required by law and that the state protocol "is designed to make certain allegations of hate crimes are not ignored or dismissed."

On Thursday, the Office of Equity and Inclusion and the Multifaith Chaplaincy at Bates College will hold a "space for grief and healing."

"This has been a difficult week on campus, and deeply painful for those who have connections to Israel and Palestine and who have Islamic, Arab, and Jewish identities," Lexow said in the email. "I hope that we can begin to seek each other out for support and compassionately acknowledge and engage with the challenges and pain of this moment."

Correction, 05/17/2021, 2:04 p.m. ET: This story and its headline have been updated to include the state attorney general's decision on May 14 that the graffiti found on the Bates College campus does not constitute a hate crime. The story was also updated to clarify that the school was following state protocol by involving local law enforcement after an anonymous caller perceived the graffiti as a hate crime. The story was also updated to include the content of additional graffiti messages, as provided by a Bates spokesperson.

Graffiti discovered on the campus of Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, on May 9. bates_blc/Instagram screenshot